social anxiety

How Often Is Alcohol Used to Self-Medicate Social Anxiety?

social anxiety

Food is considered the number one anxiety drug. Alcohol is a close second.

Original Source: and written by Jeanine Joy, Ph.D, CEO, Happiness 1st Institute, Speaker, Author


How often is alcohol used to self medicate social anxiety? originally appeared on Quora, the place to gain and share knowledge, empowering people to learn from others and better understand the world. You can follow Quora on Twitter, Facebook, and Google Plus.

I didn’t become an alcoholic because I recognized that I was using alcohol to feel better in social situations and stopped drinking.

I was 18, in college and had gone out after class three nights in a row dancing and drinking. I was working full-time and had to be at work at 7:30 a.m. The fourth day at work I found myself looking forward to drinking that night. I realized that drinking made me less anxious in social situations and it frightened me enough to stop drinking more than one or two drinks a year. It was two decades before I stopped highly restricting my alcohol intake.

The Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA) reports that around twenty percent of individuals suffering from an anxiety or mood disorder also battle a substance use disorder, and vice versa. [1]

Food is considered the number one anxiety drug. Alcohol is a close second.

Even though only twenty percent struggle with alcohol use to the point that it is considered a “disorder”, the number who actually self-medicate for social anxiety is much higher. In a given month, thirty-seven percent of teens use alcohol and much of that is often to reduce social anxiety. Remember, most teens have to jump through several hoops to drink since it isn’t legal for them. More adults drink to help with social anxiety because it is easier for them to obtain alcohol.

“People with high levels of social anxiety typically report that alcohol helps them feel more comfortable in social situations.” [2]

I consider peer pressure that one gives into a form of social anxiety. A person who is strong and confident will not give in to peer pressure to do something they don’t want to do. The lack of confidence or belief that one has the right to choose and that one’s choices are as right and valid as the choices their peers want them to make is a form of anxiety.

“Substances that depress the central nervous system like benzodiazepines (which consequently are often prescribed to treat anxiety) and alcohol may actually calm these nerve firings and therefore temporarily dispel some of the difficult psychological symptoms, likely making these substances a popular form of self-medication for these disorders.” [3]

Unfortunately, alcohol use can increase anxiety after its effects wear off.

Social anxiety exists along a continuum from mild to severe. If someone goes to a social event and really looks forward to the first drink, it is an indication that they have some level of social anxiety (or they’re an alcoholic). If someone goes to a social event and chooses alcohol because they like the particular drink and not because of its mood altering properties, it is not a sign of social anxiety.

My personal favorite drink before my husband introduced me to Frangelica was a Strawberry daiquiri. As I learned to be more and more comfortable in my own skin and to like myself more, I began ordering them as “virgins” on the rare occasions when I had a drink. I find alcohol tends to decrease my mood because my mood is usually very good. I still like the taste, but forgo the alcohol. This wouldn’t be the case if I hadn’t overcome my social anxiety.

“People with social anxiety disorder report that aside from totally avoiding anxiety–inducing situations, alcohol use is one of their primary means of coping.” [4]

I can’t find any statistics that give precise numbers for this question, so I am going to say “frequently” as my final answer.


[1] Are You Self-Medicating & Masking Symptoms of Mental Illness?

[2] Social Anxiety Disorder and Alcohol Use

[3] Are You Self-Medicating & Masking Symptoms of Mental Illness?

[4] Social Anxiety Disorder and Alcohol Use

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